I’ve started working on my créole lately. I wasn’t particularly intent on studying another language. We already speak three at the farm, Spanish being our lingua franca given the time spent with our Mexican crew. But necessity is the mother of invention, and a smattering of créole has been useful given the help we’ve been getting from workers hired on a daily basis through a season program run by the UPA (Union des producteurs agricoles). Every year we face the challenge of figuring out how to harvest our blueberries when we’re already going full tilt on the vegetable front and our regular team is spread too thin. And so this year we welcomed them, a small crew of grand-mothers – Viergela, Marie-Ange, Violette, Lumène: old-fashioned names from another time and country – who work only during the summer months. Hard workers who have had a hard life, soft-spoken and stoic, but who open up if you take the time to get to know them. They combed through our blueberry patch to provide some summer sweetness and have already moved on to another farm, another crop – weeding a carrot or a cabbage patch somewhere, perhaps. And so it is that we have begun to acquire an ear for créole, all it took was a single blueberry season.
Another summer basket awaits, the blueberries to be replaced by our first melon, a sweetly ripened cantaloupe. Mother Nature is still generous, so one has to get creative with eggplant and summer squash. In a not too distant future, there will come a time where neither will be found in our baskets…
After a few years of dwindling corn yields, I am pleased to announced that our stratagem seems to be working; as a result, you will be able to munch on your cobs shortly…Without going into technical detail, it seems that the success of our electrification scheme had less to do with the 110-volt hook-up, and more to do with the addition of a third, higher, rung on the fence – a solution born of a quick brainstorming session amongst farm employees who noted that the simple act of electrifying the previously solar-powered-only fence had not had the desired effect, i.e. raccoon festivities had begun, albeit (fortunately) on a very small scale. Three rungs spaced 6 inches apart, electrified to boot, seem to have finally stopped the critters in their tracks. All the same, we remain vigilant, raccoons can be wily creatures…
August has begun as it is often wont to do, i.e. with hot days and cool nights, a clear reminder for us market farmers that we are already heading towards fall. I know, I know – we have to enjoy summer while it lasts, we who live in these northern climes where summers are so short and winters so long. In agricultural terms, though, the cooler nights also signal to the plants that they have to think of their progeny, and weeds heed that clarion call more than most, revving up for one last hurrah before they drop their seeds and are spent. Despite all this, your baskets will have corn and many other things to remind us that summer is still in full swing.
We had been waiting for rain for weeks, and it finally came on Sunday afternoon in the form of a sudden thunderstorm which lifted netting even as it dropped bucketfuls of thirst-quenching water. Indeed, our corn, squash, blueberries and carrots had all been standing still, desperately waiting for water-filled clouds to appear and break open above them. Truth be told, it was a small rainstorm as rainstorms go, so we’ll need many more to see our fields turn green again, but a little rain is certainly better than no rain at all. The other newsworthy development is the harvesting of our garlic. All it took was a few hours, and the harvested bulbs are drying on the tractor ramps of our old red barn, where they will be left to slowly cure over the next few weeks.
Our corn is beautiful, tassled and growing fast…and yet, we worry about our corn nemesis, the raccoon – corn thief par excellence, this farmer’s Public Enemy No. 1, and most likely the bane of every market gardener’s existence. Following the havoc wrought on our 2018 crop by this pest – i.e., the total destruction of nearly 20 000 cobs by invading hordes in the space of a few weeks despite frenzied attempts to somehow stem the onslaught – we have decided to bring in the heavy artillery this year. No more solar-powered trip wires, whose zap was no more than a tickle. Instead, we are opting for bona fide 110-volt fencing this year. The shock will not be deadly, but it should be a significantly more powerful deterrent than our well-intentioned, but completely ineffective, ecological line of defence. And if they manage to get past THAT, it will simply be proof positive that raccoons really are the smartest animals to walk the face of the earth!
While our first zucchinis and cucumbers provided a foretaste of summer, this week’s offering of tomatoes and eggplant should convince you that summer has indeed arrived. Tomatoes and eggplant are my two favourite vegetables/fruits, the possibilities they open up are endless, and we will be serving them to you until the plants yield no more. Unlike the zukes and cukes, which we succession plant, our solanaceas offer a continuous harvest from the same plant which just keeps on giving, week after week, until the first frost.
I sowed carrots again this weekend. Carrots are one of the very few vegetables that we do not/cannot start in our seedling greenhouse. They are very uncompromising, carrots – an all or nothing kind of vegetable. Either you get it right with your seeder, or …you are forever trying to get it right. This year has seen more of the latter, and carrots are becoming the bane of my existence, I kid you not. Poor germination, overwhelming weeds – to name but two sources of carrot-related frustration. And so this weekend, I sowed carrots, again. In the quiet of a late afternoon, it was just my seeder, my soil and me. A farmer friend told me not to fight it, to step smoothly, to gently guide the seeder in the furrow in a steady but flowing motion…and let the seeds do the rest. Saturday, I sowed my carrots and felt that perhaps I was getting better at it.
A scant two or three days over 30◦C and already, you’d think we’re at the height of summer! All of a sudden we’re faced with full-on heat, humidity, scarce rains and trying to figure out how to deal with it all. Fortunately, over the years we’ve developed something of a Pavlovian reflex: as soon as we see hot weather settling in, we move to unwind our ‘layflat’ tubing, hook up the drip tapes and turn on the pumps in our irrigation ponds. A technical break from field work that is a life-saver for our plants, but that always begs the question : ‘what will we do if the well/pond runs dry?’ – a question which is sometimes not just a rhetorical question, as demonstrated by last year’s record-breaking July drought. To water or not to water, when to water, how much to water: it’s a calculated risk we take, we’ll deal with the fallout later if necessary.
The pressure has just gone up a few notches at the farm – as if we needed that – but for a great reason: namely, the impending opening of our two farm stands at Atwater and Jean Talon markets, next Friday, as the florists and nursery owners who inaugurate the outdoor market season give way to the produce growers like us who close it out when the wind turns in October…And so it is that we’ve been busy sawing, sanding, staining, painting and hammering away… nothing to do with anything agricultural per se, but all in the hopes that our stands will catch the eye of Sunday shoppers and loyal customers alike. The market season launch is both similar to, but different from, our basket season launch – it’s essentially the same produce served up to ‘regulars’ and new customers, albeit in a different setting from that of our CSA basket deliveries.
Lest we forget to remind you: we are already planning the resumption of our annual méchoui, a tradition we had let lapse with the opening of our Atwater farm stand three years ago, but which we are pleased to be reinstating this year – specifically on September 2nd, Labour Day Monday. It’s a byob potluck affair: we provide the roast meats, you bring your favourite side dishes to share and we take you all on a tour of the farm. Details to follow.
The farm has abruptly tipped into summer, without warning or fanfare. Overnight, it seems, we’ve gone from rainy days and chilly nights to balmy weather with hints of the dog days of summer to come. Our solanaceae have suddenly regained vigor and strength, and our cool-weather-loving brassicas are even looking like they may bolt. For your market gardeners, all these signs are encouraging indicators of a morale-boosting return to normalcy in the fields. And yet we are ambivalent : these same signs herald the beginning of our annual, always epic, battle of the weeds – in which we will be engaged until Fall frosts bring the skirmishes to a definitive close. And so it is that last week ended in a flurry of hoe blades, as we took advantage of the warm sunny weather before rain scheduled to fall again later this week.
This week’s basket is an ode to kale. We produce four varieties of kale, and would like to have you sample two or three of them, depending on your respective basket sizes. While kale-based smoothies are still trendy, we find kale a welcome addition to braised or stewed dishes and a great ingredient in hearty mixed salads. We’ll be serving up other brassicas, too, as we continue to await the imminent arrival of strawberries. We look forward to seeing you all again.
Just as we were beginning to despair, the sun finally appeared, and some heat, too. As we toured the fields today, Sunday, we felt Mother Nature bursting at the seams, impatient to make up for lost time. Like us, she is all too aware that summer is short in our northern climes and that a successful season means taking advantage of every minute of every hour of sunshine that the weather will allow. We’ve already had a few unwelcome visitors – potato beetles in our eggplants, cucumber beetles in our winter squash. Isn’t it early, you may ask – indeed it is, but climate change oblige, past is no longer prologue. They have arrived, and we’ll have to make do. Beetles notwithstanding, the season is finally launched, and we’re glad.
Yo-yoing weather forecasts, mad transplanting dashes between scattered rain showers and an all-around schizophrenic spring – that about sums up the world we’ve been living in for the past several weeks. Things are progressing nonetheless, and as I write these lines, having taken advantage of the rare sunny moments and selected the least humid of our vegetable beds, we’ve managed to stay abreast of our planting schedule so far – with everything needing to be planted actually planted. That includes our first brassicas, a whole lot of leafy greens, our early solanaceas as well as our early cucurbits (i.e. cukes and zukes). The days are still cool, the nights coooler still – our veggies are feeling the chill and their growth is sluggish. There is still a long list of veggies waiting to be (trans)planted to the fields, but we’ll need some help from Mother Nature before we can say mission accomplished. All the while, we’ve been having flashbacks to 2017, a season that started out just as wet, albeit a bit warmer, if memory serves me.